Four Latinos Form Arizona’s First Legislative LGBT Caucus

House Representatives César Chávez, Daniel Hernandez Jr., Rebecca Rios, Charlene Fernandez and Lela Alston announce the formation of the LGBT Caucus. (Photo courtesy of Arizona House Democrats)

By Angelica Cabral

PHOENIX – Six years ago, it was a young intern who helped save Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s life in a shooting that shocked Arizona and the nation. Now, that same intern has made history again by helping to found the first LGBT Caucus in the Arizona Legislature.

 Daniel Hernandez, who now represents District 2 in the state House of Representatives, said he and some of the other founders — Tony Navarrete and César Chávez — used to get together for dinners and joke that they were the ‘gaucus,’ or the gay caucus.

They, along with state Senator Robert Meza, began to think about creating something more formal. Hernandez said they looked to other states to see what they were doing.

“All three of us (in the House of Representatives), were big believers in you don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “Especially because there were already folks who were doing it well.”

Hernandez said they adopted the bylaws from other states, like California, and began to reach out to relevant stakeholders in the community to see what their priorities were. The caucus was officially announced on Oct. 11, which is also National Coming Out Day.

“I think SB 1062 was a big sign and a big show of force for the LGBT community, that we know how to build partnerships with not just traditionally allied groups that are in the social justice realm, but really, the business community,” Hernandez said.

SB 1062 was a bill from 2014, which then-Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed after an intense outcry from Democrats, Republicans and major corporations. If passed, it would have allowed businesses to deny people services based on religious beliefs.

Similar laws in other states have been used by Christians to exclude LGBT people. Such was the case in Indiana with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allowed for-profit businesses to assert their right to free exercise of religion. This could, in theory, mean doing something like denying serving food to a gay couple in a restaurant if your religious beliefs dictate that you disagree with people being gay.

Dante Mitchell, an Arizona State University student and a vice chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, hopes the caucus can help legitimize LGBT issues. He hopes the caucus will prioritize employment status. Currently, Arizona is one of the states that has no protections for LGBT workers, meaning that someone can still be fired for being openly gay.

Hernandez also listed housing and working protections as a priority for the caucus.

Mitchell said he hopes having openly LGBT members of the state legislature will help deter other representatives from passing discriminatory laws.

“When they want to pass a bill that has such a negative effect on our community, now they have to do it and look at these four men in the eye and say ‘we’re doing this against you,’” Mitchell said. “And I think that will have an effect because these legislators know each other and I think they all know Daniel and the rest of the caucus and they’re great people.”

Mitchell also has an interesting connection to Hernandez, whom he has admired for a while.

When he was in high school, there was controversy about Hernandez giving the commencement speech on campus, since he is openly gay. Ultimately, Hernandez was able to give his speech, but that story stuck with Mitchell.

Mitchell said while things are better than when he was first started high school, there is still a need for improvement. He hopes this caucus can allow candidates and elected officials to prioritize the LGBT community and, specifically, be LGBT leaders.

“I think it’s really great that it gives our leaders a choice and a platform to be a leader in policy and have that LGBT connection to it,” he said.

As a fellow local political leader, Mitchell also wants to use his role to address the concerns of the LGBT community.

“These issues are really about communities and about people’s lives,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes people can forget about that, that these aren’t just policy questions, these affect people’s lives.”

Hernandez hopes to inspire more people like Mitchell by being outspoken about his identity. He said people in his life have repeatedly told him it would be easier for him to be more quiet about his sexuality since they think he already has one strike against him for being Latino, but he’s never listened.

He said he hopes being outspoken can help people be more open-minded.

“I’m tired of people feeling like we need to be others and shamed just because of who we are,” Hernandez said. “If I can get one other person to feel like they are valuable and that they are important because I’ve come out, then that is why I do what I do.”

He added that role models, who like him were Latino and gay, were rare when he was growing up.

“For me, it’s important that we are out there and vocal because we know that there are going to be kids who are going to look up to us,” Hernandez said. “There are kids who are now going to be in school who are going to see us, who could potentially be the next U.S. Senator from Arizona.”

Even though all the founding members of the new caucus are Democrats, some members from other parties agree with the cause.

David Howman, president of the Arizona State University College Libertarians group, said the representation of LGBT people in the state Legislature is a good thing.

“I think that we do need to have a better representation of all of our different population groups within Arizona, but also specifically with regard to LGBT,” Howman said.

He said securing marriage equality has been a platform of the Libertarian party since its inception in the early 1970s. However, just because that right is secured, for now, it does not mean the fight is over, Howman said.

“I think that our legislation needs to give a stronger emphasis on securing the same exact right for every single individual,” he said. “Regardless of whatever makes them differently identify between each other.”

Hernandez also thinks further progress needs to be made for the LGBT community. He knows it won’t be easy to accomplish all that he wants to get done and that it might take years before a bill that helps secure employment rights is passed.

However, that’s not stopping him.

“I think for those of us who have been doing this for more than a day or two, you realize that if you’re doing something that’s worth doing, you’re going to have detractors, you’re going to have people fighting against the things that you’re trying to do,” Hernandez said.

“But that’s why we do it. If it were easy, it would’ve been done by now.”

12 Comments

  1. have they decided on which bathroom they are going to use or do they want a special one built for them just in case.. you know how Tuesdays are…

  2. forcing “Christians” to capitulate – yeah what a great group, that’s there motto and cause – you “WILL DO THIS” – does that include make a cake and perform an abortion? How about euthanasia? The anti-Christian left.. out to make it ‘our way or the highway’ or do they want to imprison the ‘non-complaint ones’? Burn them at the stake like the Muslims have? What’s in the 0.1% best interest? Job protection – I haven’t seen much of that… is this a serious problem? I think ‘equal rights’ has been quite ‘equal’ so is this fixing a problem, or is this ’cause’ out to capitulate free will? How ironic…

    • Couldn’t have said it any better. I’m always amazed at how these “rights” issues are only used to trample on the Constitutional rights of Americans. It’s not about discriminatory housing, employment protection, etc., it’s about how to crush Christianity, remove God from our society, and ultimately eliminate from the Constitution the right to practice one’s faith.

  3. lets have a governmental group based on how we have sex – how we feel about sex – how we are confused about sex, so many choices, in the rear – orally – who’s he – who’s she – where we urinate is just so important – can we next to your children if we so like – oh and don’t let your children think that’s wrong, they have rights to you know… it’s just all so complex – and because of this unique complexity we have a decided we have a group to decide for you what your rights are and how ‘we’ should be treated by you, “or else”.. it is so complex isn’t it… NO IT’S NOT. Rights infringement is quite blatant is easy to understand – the core of the ‘anti-Christian ethic’ is easy to see, in fact your acts and actions have been predicted in prophecy thousands of years before today.. we’ve been waiting for you – you are just putting those actions into place. It is the time in which we live. Maranatha.

  4. What has been right is now wrong, and what was once wrong is what we have left. Yes they are re-inventing the wheel!

  5. Why is it the perverts get to tell the rest of us what’s right and wrong and how to live? That’s messed up.

  6. There is nothing like the image of one man taking a mouthful of seaman from his boyfriends feces covered penis to make people all warm and fuzzy feeling.

    • Everything I write is ALAWYS subject to further moderation often taking hours to publicly show up in the feed, and yet you can get away with your comment? I’m so beyond jealous…

      On a serious note: After reading that post I’m gonna need to go hide in my safe space as I try to purge that thought from my mind.

      The Oracle

  7. How can you represent all citizens when you form sub cultures? Sub cultures that disagree with my lifestyle. Diversity it starting to really suck.

  8. Spare me the flack Richard, it’s my opinion:

    The real problem here is the LGBT community doesn’t just want acceptance, tolerance and diversity as these boundaries would be limited as “acceptable” and acceptability isn’t the real target aim here. Equality may be the name of the game, but the goal isn’t to seek equality on equal ground, the goal isn’t to be tied for first place, the goal is to be in first place.
    To simply and openly accept the LGBT community isn’t enough for them, however if you will embrace and promote the LGBT community then they will feel they are truly special and only then will they achieve the goals they seek, anything short of this is unacceptable to them.
    If you’ll elevate them to special status they’ll finally feel truly special. And if along the way if you happen to subvert your own beliefs, or your religious teachings or your own acceptable levels of morality to promote beyond mere acceptance then the LGBT community will only then have achieved its goals, and that is the real reason we have a self imposed sub divided section of the state legislature. Because who wants a united legislature doing the business of the people when we can gum up the works with special interest within the legislature itself.
    Being a bunch of legislators who happen to be gay isn’t enough, they have to be recognized as a bunch of gays who happen to be state legislators.
    It started from the PC movement run amok. If you for whatever reason oppose homosexuality your no longer just opinionated, that right is no longer yours, suddenly your deemed mentally, emotionally and socially defective and labeled as homophobic. And if you think people should be hired solely based on their qualifications and not the color of their skin to achieve statistical harmony your deemed a racist. It never ends with the name calling and the derogatory labeling.
    When we stop being “special”-Americans and start being “Americans” we’ll be making real progress, until then we’re sliding down hill into the abyss of political correctness which in itself doesn’t make the world a better place.
    I’m not suggesting that these four members of the LGBT community go hide in the closet, and while I’m happy for then to come out and freely be who they are, I do think that any efforts of compartamentalizing these four legislators into a separate sub group detracts from the greater good of all for the benefit of them alone and the minority of the constitutes they claim to represent who identify as fellow members of the LGBT community.
    Should we now have a caucus solely for the white male heterosexuals or would that be insensitive and a overt violation of political correctness? Should we have a caucus for just the left handed members as well?
    All of this division pulls apart our unity and destroys the legislative body that its members claim to make up, when we isolate ourselves into sub clickish groups at the expense of the greater body itself. When we include only a few we exclude the many and isn’t that contrary to diversity? Isn’t excluding others is exactly what the LGBT community claims to be fighting against?

    The Oracle

  9. and now.. the UofA is hiring staff at $11.00 per hour, federal money.. to staff ‘safe zones for LGBT’s that so need one. Really? What I want to know is, when you are LGBT which tee box do you get to tee off from?

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